Photo credit: tedmurphy

The number one concern small and medium businesses have about social media: “what if people complain about my company/product/brand on my “Facebook/Twitter/blog.” I’ve always advised my clients that its better to have people complain in an open forum where it can be addressed. Because – he’s the truth: for every person who gives you a chance to respond, there are probably 2 more who just complained to their friends and didn’t even tell you why there were unhappy. Ignoring the fact that you HAVE complaints is a  “if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it..did it really happen?” customer service philosophy. We’ve often said: look at these complaints as an opportunity! Consider it a chance to make it right!

You know why people complain in public forums? They WANT a resolution. They WANT you to listen and they don’t want to have to deal with your customer service robots to get resolution. They complain because they care!

Now, recent news gives us empirical evidence about the opportunities businesses have with complainers. My favorite tidbit of info:

68% of consumers who posted a complaint or negative review on a social networking or ratings/reviews site got a response.  Of those, 18% turned into loyal customers and bought more. Eureka! Holy SCHMOLY! Its true. Time to take our heads out of the sands and start giving virtual hugs to our complainers and making tiny beaded bracelets that say “BFF” for these folks!

So – if you’re going to make complainers into BFF’s where to start? Here are a couple of suggestions:

1) Respond Quickly: Half the recipe for success is showing up. The other half is showing you care. You can take the air out of the sails immediately with a well crafted and quick response. The quicker the response, the happier the complainer and the more impressed the social media listeners are. PS: I chose our featured image on this premise. I love the idea of the posted apology with NO PEOPLE there. Funny. But not really. Don’t make your customers feel that way. Its rude and icky.

2) Be Humble and Thank them. Think of yourself as the humble servant who just got whipped: “thank you sir, may I have another” Approaching a complainer with a “thank you” and an open attitude puts the complainer at ease and let’s them know you are prepared to treat them as a human. I personally LOVE being treated like a human rather than as a “customer number”.

3) Set the record straight-MAYBE: If there is inaccurate information in the complaint, don’t be afraid to clear the air. Here’s the rub: do this only when the misinformation is particularly relevant or misleading to others. There is no use picking a fight over the minutae, your trying to get a customer back, not tick him/her off even further. Think very carefully about whether its worth setting the record straight – and if it is: by all means…DO IT just be fair and factual.

3) Get to the heart of the matter: Most complainers are also very good at crafting an argument, so just avoid the argument part and get right to the solutions part of the discussion. Giving the complainer either next steps or some sort of resolution is paramount! Remember: the reason you have a complainer on your hands is because they want a solution! More importantly, everyone is watching how you handle the solution part. No pressure. Again, note how our photo doesn’t get to the SOLUTION part..not to mention the fact that there are no people there to create a solution.

4) Be Real: If your embarrassed, say so. If you think the customer is right, say so. Don’t try and defend the senseless. Mistakes happen. We all know it. Heck, you could even say to your customer those magic words: “You are right.” Ever said that to someone? I love it when I throw people off by telling them they are right. Its awesome – they are usually stunned into submission. Let the customer know the first name of the person responding. Give them a private way to stay in touch (so they can voice their concerns to their new friend on the inside as opposed to using social media).

Now go out there and make those complainers your BFF’s! If you have a story about customer service and social media, please feel free to share it. I’ll be tweeting the best responses.